In fairness, he represents Hawaii. If you lived in Hawaii in an age when the House allows proxy voting, you’d look for excuses to stay home too.
Still, it’s bananas how long Kai Kahele has been away from Washington. He hasn’t cast a vote in person since January. He’s missed key meetings bearing on important issues in his home state. And his office doesn’t seem to be hustling in his absence.
Oh, and he has a side gig. A trained pilot, he continues to hold down a job flying for Hawaiian Airlines.
Or maybe flying is his main gig and being a congressman is his other job?
Compounding the weirdness here is that there’s no official explanation for his long absence. He’s not ill as far as anyone knows and it’s not as if the past few months have seen some brutal surge of COVID that would understandably keep Kahele off the mainland. If anything, until very recently, D.C. was safer than ever from the virus.
Many Americans have embraced the work-from-home ethos of the pandemic era. But Kai Kahele has bear-hugged it.
He skipped President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, was the only member of the state’s federal delegation to miss out on meetings with city officials who were in D.C. to talk to the Federal Transit Administration about the future of Honolulu’s $10 billion rail project and was a no-show for a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week to discuss the Department of Defense’s $773 billion budget request for fiscal year 2023…
[His] office also refused to provide Civil Beat with a copy of Kahele’s schedule over the past four months to show how he has been spending his time representing his district…
[Two] lobbyists used the same word to describe the response coming out of Kahele’s office when it comes to scheduling meetings or discussing major policy initiatives, such as the National Defense Authorization Act that sets the policy agenda for the U.S. military — “Crickets.”
“This is a significant departure from how they operated in the past,” one of the lobbyists said. “The office always had a work ethic, but it’s obvious that they decided not to show up anymore.”
He’s cast five votes in person in 2022, each of them coming in a three-day span in January, versus 120 by proxy. The other congressman from Hawaii hasn’t used a proxy vote once all year.
The irony of Kahele being MIA from Washington is that he got the job two years ago by criticizing the then-incumbent for not spending enough time focused on her job. That was conservative favorite Tulsi Gabbard, who was busy campaigning for president at the time. No one knows why Kahele is away, though. The impression one gets from the story excerpted above is that he’s just sort of … lost interest in the job, not even caring enough to do the nuts-and-bolts work of making sure that Hawaii gets its fair share of military and transportation pork.
Reportedly he wants to run for governor but that ambition is mystifying given the bad press he’s courting by phoning it in (literally) as a House member. You can write the attack ads yourself: “Why should we trust Kai Kahele with another important job when he didn’t care enough to do the last one we gave him?”
There’s nothing novel about ambitious young politicians trying to get elected to Congress because they see it as a stepping stone to bigger things. But whatever you may think about, say, Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley running for Senate as a launching pad to become president, you have to give them this: They at least show up for work.
Oh, as for that side hustle:
Got a response from Kahele's office on this. They said the congressman files "a drastically reduced schedule to maintain his active status" and is fully in compliance with ethics rules that limit outside income to $29k per year. https://t.co/GT3GpAcydb
— Alex Daugherty (@alextdaugherty) April 11, 2022
I wonder who fed this well-timed bit of oppo research about Kahele’s absences to the Honolulu Civil Beat. There’s no shortage of suspects. Hawaii’s lieutenant governor is running for the top spot this year and may have seized this opportunity to take Kahele out early in the primary. On the other hand, the fact that Kahele has mused openly about running for governor has attracted interest in his House seat, so maybe it was one of those candidates who pushed the story in hopes of convincing him not to run for Congress again in case he was inclined that way. Either way, I think he’s done.